Exemplas Index - Real Insights From Real Business

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1 Exemplas Index - Real Insights From Real Business Business Support Insights A report summarising the results of research conducted with SME businesses throughout England in May and July 2015, focusing on SME business support needs and preferences and current business issues and challenges.

2 Supporting small businesses to grow is vital to the economic health of the nation so it s important to get it right. Much has been written about how businesses which access business support are more likely to survive beyond the first three years of trading and our own research shows that businesses with increasing turnover are more likely to have used business support. This is positive news but what is it that these businesses are actually benefitting from and how can we ensure that this support meets as many small business needs as possible without becoming diluted and ineffective. We must continue to ask what it is that businesses really need from business support services and how can we provide sustainable business support services that are agile and innovative enough to meet the changing face of small business and changing business practices. It is helpful to look at the opportunities provided by new technologies - can we harness these technologies to provide more flexible and tailored support to businesses? After all small businesses and business owners are not all the same and we should be taking a more thoughtful and responsive approach to support provision. New technologies allow us to put this into practice. For example our research found that local support was preferred by smaller businesses with 1-4 employees. The availability of digital technologies can now go some way to connecting these businesses face to face with advisors and providing an accessible service with a local feel. The research also found that the preferred channels for business support are still face to face (79%) and telephone (83%) which are also the most expensive methods. Count Figure 1 - How was the business support accessed? At a time when government budgets for business support are tightening, a solution is to integrate traditional channels with digital and design support in a way that provides tailored advice for small businesses in a more cost effective way. Whilst greater emphasis on digital support for small business is a good solution to cost efficiencies, a blended approach where digital methods are harnessed to complement and ensure effective use of telephone and face-to-face advice rather than replace it would seem most appropriate.

3 This blended approach will ensure that face to face advice and support is targeted where businesses need and prefer it. By placing the customer at the heart of the support service and harnessing the flexibility and convenience provided by good digital solutions we give the customer control of the service blend that they receive, guiding them through self-diagnosis and good tailored information and interpretation, through to an expert advisor where and if required. This approach is more cost effective and meets the need for a more tailored and interpretive, face to face or telephone based service which is identified in our research. Our research shows that 69% of businesses are aspiring to grow and 59% have turnover that is actually growing. Figure 2 - Turnover progression rate (unweighted count 721) Figure 3 - Business aspiration (Unweighted Count 721)

4 Growth brings new challenges for business. Indeed, 71% of the organisations who responded perceived that they were facing a barrier to achieving growth, in particular: 16% of these barriers were financial, 15% were related to market conditions, 10% were in finding skilled employees, and 9% were legislative restrictions. So whether it is interpreting new legislation and regulations, understanding employment law, finding skilled staff and getting the financial conditions for growth in place, if we can support businesses at the right time with the expert advice and information they need, then the challenges of the growth process will be minimised and costly mistakes avoided. The same research found that 37% of businesses have never accessed business support. Indeed many of these non-users will be experienced business owners who have the confidence and knowledge to succeed but where time is precious and business owners don t have the skills and knowledge then a tailored business support service can and does make a significant difference. Those who used business support valued the access they had to advice and expertise when they needed it, they valued the opportunity for a second opinion and advice that was specifically tailored to their business. With respondents saying they accessed 708 different advisory services for all kinds of business advice there is room for improvement in this fragmented landscape. 36% of organisations identified a number of support gaps that they perceive they face. Specifically 13% were seeking general business support all from the one place, 7% were seeking additional grant funding or guidance on accessing it, 7% were seeking government support to interpret the regulations and 4% were seeking more employment and training advice. The increased availability of tailored support from one place and easily accessible, affordable expert support in key areas could really make difference. Perceived Gaps in Business Support

5 Nevertheless demand for support is high with 73% saying they access business support at least once a quarter and 28% once a month. There are also interesting variations in the take up of business support with the services sector being more likely to use business support than the manufacturing, wholesale or retail sectors. Legal advice and HR and Employment advice are the most commonly accessed advice services with highly regulated areas such as financial advice and health and safety also scoring highly. So moving forward it is vital that we really pay attention to what small business owners are saying they need and provide small business support services that are truly built around these needs. If we can achieve this then we free up business owners to focus on sustainability and success.

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